LAYERS Solo Exhibition | Contemporary Art Platform (CAP) Kuwait

Malu Halasa | Beyond Palestine

Independence positions Sabella inside the major visual movement of our times. The current obsession with incessant image-making has transformed the way the visual image is created, distributed and seen/experienced. A case in point is the rise of low-resolution or pixilated images, particularly in light of the explosion of social media, citizen journalism and moving and still imagery from Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia over the last three years. While the distance between low-res images and the art gallery is not well traversed, Sabella is not only undeterred, but defiant.

“I didn’t need a Hasselblad. I didn’t need a camera. I was in the moment and the only thing that was going to make the image was my smart phone. Nothing is going to stop me from creating that image. For me, it was also independence from the medium.”


Afterimage Journal | SETH THOMPSON

Born in Jerusalem, Sabella, who often considers the plight and struggle of the Palestinian people within his work, had at first glance appeared to deviate from this course when he created his Independence series, a body of photographic works realized in 2013. The exhibition at Meem Gallery consisted of seventeen deliberately grainy images of figures floating in an abyss-like sea of blackened water. The bodies are distorted and ambiguous and could even be described as painterly, as their representa­tion within the water appears almost to be created with gestural brush strokes. The images were bonded directly onto acrylic sheets using the diasec process, which give the two-dimensional photographs a sheen-like quality.



Berlin-based Palestinian artist Steve Sabella is known for his large-scale, abstract and sharp photographs. But his latest show in Dubai, “Independence”, is different. The photographs in this series are much smaller and have a diffused, dreamlike quality. They feature two anonymous figures suspended in a dark space. The figures seem peaceful yet unsettled; connected yet independent. They look almost like X-ray images, and a closer look reveals distortions and broken bones in the bodies.


Jyoti Kalsi | Liberation As a State of Mind Gulf News

Unlike the aforementioned fractured constellations, Independence is viscerally and deceptively whole. It is a new visual experience, wherein the only borders lie on the images’ edges themselves, and the outlines of the figures contained within them appear intact. The two females – one appearing young, the other older – could be floating or flying. Some of the images in the series are monological, though most portray the characters engaging in an intimate gestural dance. On closer inspection, fragmentation emerges. What could possibly be parts of bone or metal appear on or beneath the surface of their diaphanous skin. Lacking any facial detail, they are stripped of characteristics that could convey expressions, left with the sole sense of touch. Amidst a dark void, they appear in blurred obscurity, like anonymous forms suspended in extremis.

Madeline Yale Preston | Free-Falling Into the Future Independence Solo Exhibition Catalogue | Meem Gallery | Dubai

It has taken time for Sabella to free himself from the mental torments of exile and displacement. Those familiar with his work will remember his series ‘In Exile’ (2008) when this was first apparent. Here we witnessed the initial visualisation of his movement into freedom through images whereby the artist destroyed and assembled symbols of entry and exile…. These pieces challenge the photographic image of Palestine as do his new works in ‘Independence.’

Rebecca Anne Proctor | A Drift Harper's Bazaar Arabia

Steve Sabella Photography 1997-2014

Hubertus Von Amelunxen

In Sabella’s more recent work Independence there is a pictorial state of uncertainty that abandons the coordinates of space and therefore of history.


… Like cracks in a broken mirror, the montage of the image [in Euphoria] becomes clear, pointing towards a mental process that has not yet been accomplished and that leads to the subsequent series, ending with the project Independence, realized in 2013, in which we see complete, floating human bodies, possibly a sign that the artist has healed his mental wounds and sees himself as complete. It is a breaking free of all bonds that now allows the artist to embark on new quests.


Charlotte Bank | Re-Constructing Dasein: The Works of Steve Sabella Institute for Middle East Understanding IMEU

New work by Sabella also marked a significant shift from his more abstracted style of recent years to the use of figures again. “Since I freed my art from my personal narrative, I went back to focusing on my research in decoding the visual world we live in,” explained Sabella. “This visual research is leading me to explore what came first, the world or its image. To do this, I unveil hidden visual palimpsests that were not apparent to my eye before. Perhaps I needed to come to terms with my exile and eventually scrape away the political layers that guided the viewers towards an almost predetermined meaning from my work.

Canvas Magazine | New Constellations for Steve Sabella Dubai

Figures are immersed in a dark void, seemingly suspended in space, or floating on water. The slightly diffused image adds to the sense of timelessness—making the works appear almost dreamlike. The title invites the viewer to question the works: Independence as a state of being; are these figures independent, or do they lean on one another? Can one be both independent and dependent?

Meagan Kelly Horsman Meem Gallery Foreword | Dubai

Kevin Jones | ARTFORUM

If Steve Sabella’s 2013 series “Independence” were music, it would be trip-hop—a suave, steady beat wrapped in a sullen, ethereal pall, at once spirited and weighty… The ambivalent, distended bodies depicted are themselves textured by scales of light and shown as if in free fall or blurred by nebulous fluid.

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An Artist Examines the Israel-Palestine Conflict in Dark, Ambiguous Photographs

Stephen Dillon | Artsy Editorial

There is beauty in the distortions of their bodies in the refracted water, but they are also made to appear fractured and incomplete by the warping ripples. Many of the images are oriented vertically, so that bodies appear to be falling or flying. In one, a woman reaches upward, while another ambiguous person—they are so obscured that we cannot be sure of their age or gender—reaches down to them through the inky blackness. They seem peaceful, but nonetheless straining for connection.

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The Installation


Installation at Scavi Scaligeri Museum | Verona Also exhibited as an installation of animated projections on six double-sided screens hung in dark space

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Contemporary Art Platform | CAP Kuwait

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Meem Gallery | Dubai

Solo Exhibition | Independence

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mounted on matt diasec

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As the title suggests, the Independence series expresses liberation from a previous state of exile. The recovery of this freedom is represented by a large installation consisting of 6 screens measuring over two metres, suspended in space. A number of grainy, watery images, which can nevertheless be seen to be human figures, float dramatically on these large contemporary canvases in the room. The silhouettes hanging from the ceiling, like acrobats on a trapeze, convey a sense of peace and of harmony reconquered, which – one might add – would be so desirable for all of Palestine, for decades fighting for the same ideal.

Beatrice Benedetti | Discoveries of a Mental Journey Archeology of the Future Exhibition Catalogue The International Center of Photography Scavi Scaligeri

Floating in darkness, they appear both liberated yet unsettled. They seem transported into the beyond, but their silver skin is abstracted and fragmented. While the title suggests transcendence and elation, the images present the viewer with more polarizing signs that suggest apprehension and disorientation, perhaps a comment on the struggle towards liberation.

Abed Al Kadiri | Layers Exhibition Catalogue Foreword Contemporary Art Platform (CAP) Kuwait


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